A Brief History of the Screw
We use metric screws and screwdrivers all the time – but where did these ingenious devices come from? They weren’t always there, after all. Here’s a little mini-history of everyone’s favorite fastener.
The basic idea of the screw first came about in the 1st Century A.D. But these early wooden screws weren’t intended as fasteners – they were used instead to drive pressing machines such as oil presses and wine presses. The first slotted metal screw used as a fastener was produced in Germany in 1513.It was simply a length of steel or brass wire that had been hammered flat at one head to form the head, with the slot and threads filed cut by hand. Henry Maudsley of England created the first practical screw manufacturing lathe in 1797, a feat duplicated in America by David Wilkinson the following year.
Screws started to get really interesting in the 20th Century with the invention of the square-drive Robertson screw in 1908 (a major factor in holding the Ford Model T together), followed by the Henry Philips’s Philips-head screw in the 1930s. Philips-head screws aided assembly-line production because of their ability to fasten more tightly, using greater torque, without causing any compatibility issues with the assembly equipment of the era.
Obviously it’s a lot easier to use a screw when you have a device expressly designed to drive it. The first general-purpose “screwdriver” was the simple flat-bladed bit developed for carpenters’ braces in 1744. Once some 19th-Century genius added a handle, the screwdriver as we know it was off and running. Screws and screwdrivers have only gotten more diverse over the decades, and today there are so many kinds of screws that the problem is choosing the right one.